Hanging on the wall of my office is a photo taken by my friend Dylan Hollingsworth. It pictures a photo of a protest sign bearing a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” It is a fitting quote for our work at Human Rights Initiative of North Texas, Inc.
HRI is an agency which is dedicated to being a voice for our clients. It is certainly true that our mission includes providing for the legal needs of our immigrant clients in Immigration Court, before the Houston Asylum office, and the USCIS. Through our partnerships with the best law firms in our city, we make certain our clients, who have no financial resource, receive the highest quality legal aid. Another integral part of what we do, however, is to raise awareness of the issues confronting our clients. We repeatedly have called for the renewal of the Violence against Women Act (VAWA), which Congress has permitted to expire. We have called attention to the fact that our Asylum clients wait for up to two years for their case to go to trial and many of them are not permitted to work in the interim. Dr. King once wrote that “Justice delayed is justice denied.” We speak about the human rights abuses occurring in countries, many people have never even heard of.
Dr. King was a noted author and speaker. Perhaps most notably however was a letter he wrote. It has become known as “The Letter from the Birmingham Jail.” Dr. King, like many of our clients, was in jail because he dared to speak truth to power. He was in jail because of his participation in a non-violent protest against the racial segregation gripping the State of Alabama, and indeed all of the Deep South of our nation. In a Birmingham jail cell he wrote a letter to the Birmingham clergy, challenging their failure to speak up against oppression. He wrote,
“(M)ore and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”
We here at HRI will not be guilty of that silence. We will continue the work of Dr. King in speaking the truth of our clients. We will call attention to the brave man or immigrant woman escaping the abuse of a spouse, a child who bravely testifies against the criminal who sexually assaulted them, or the pro-democracy activist who bears the scars of torture from those whose absolute power leads them to oppressive rule. It is our privilege to do this. There is no greater legacy of Dr. King than that work. Won’t you join us?